{{featured_button_text}}
Cubs White Sox Baseball

Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon has to get the Cubs winning on the road in the second half if he wants to keep his job.

CHICAGO — The Cubs face their stiffest challenge yet in the National League Central with all five teams within 4 1/2 games of first place.

Here are five questions the Cubs face entering the second half.

1. Will they trade another top prospect to address a need?

General manager Jed Hoyer said July 1 that the Cubs have received a lot of interest in their prospects, but there are three reminders about the cost of acquiring deadline talent.

First, Eloy Jimenez, whom the Cubs traded two years ago as part of a deal to acquire Jose Quintana, has hit two game-winning home runs against the Cubs this season and is quickly living up to his billing as a potential All-Star for the White Sox.

Second, infielder Gleyber Torres, whom the Cubs dealt to the Yankees in the Aroldis Chapman trade three years ago, is now a two-time All-Star who finished third in American League Rookie of the Year voting last season.

Third, Dylan Cease, who was included in the Quintana trade, made his major-league debut for the Sox last week and otherwise likely would have been part of the Cubs pitching staff this season.

The Cubs feel good about their pitching depth at the lower-minor-league levels, but trading top pitching prospects Brailyn Marquez or Paul Richan would put another big dent in a farm system trying to rebound.

2. Is this the last hurrah for manager Joe Maddon?

Even an NL Central title wouldn't guarantee Maddon returning for a sixth season.

Maddon has answered the front office's call to be more hands-on. He was increasingly involved with situational hitting in spring training with several drills, and he has given his players the lineups in advance for each series.

But Maddon doesn't stand in the batter's box, where Cubs hitters have failed frequently with runners in scoring position. The organization decided to stick with the same group that failed Maddon in the second half of 2018. The loss of veteran switch hitter Ben Zobrist, who has been on the restricted list since early May, has hurt the offense.

The manner in which the players respond to a tightly contested division race could dictate whether Maddon has any chance of returning. To Maddon's credit, he has shown no signs of cracking despite his uncertain future.

3. Can they hit in the clutch?

The Cubs batted .356 (21-for-59) during their six-game winning streak in late April and early May, so they're capable of producing in the clutch.

But too many times an early-inning rally has stalled, putting pressure on the starting pitcher with no margin for error.

The top of the lineup has remained firm with Kyle Schwarber, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras. But Bryant is batting only .236 with runners in scoring position and .241 with runners in scoring position and two outs, and Schwarber's averages in those situations are .200 and .174.

4. Can they clean up their mistakes?

Not holding runners closely, missing cutoff men and trying to take an extra base despite trailing. The Cubs' repeated mistakes have loomed large in losses over the last month. They haven't taxed Maddon's patience -- yet.

Many of the same mistakes surfaced in 2017, when the Cubs coped with their World Series hangover before turning it around and winning the division. But the energy spent just to repeat as division champion took its toll and deprived them of a chance for home-field advantage in a playoff series.

5. Can they get right on the road?

The Cubs are 18-27 (.400) away from Wrigley Field, the worst road winning percentage in the division. They finish the season with three games in Pittsburgh and three in St. Louis, so it's imperative for them to turn it around on the road before then.

The good news is their next trip isn't until July 22 against the NL West cellar-dwelling Giants. Then they'll benefit from days off before critical series in Milwaukee and St. Louis that could dictate the course of the franchise.

Want to kick off your morning with the latest in sports?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
0
0
0
0
0

Load comments